Tag Archives: Romania

Dracula’s Casa. Way more of a fiesta when he’s around.

If that sounds like a complaint, it’s not. I’m pretty thrilled I’m planning this trip for myself, never know two days in advance what country I’ll be in and I still end up at places known as Dracula’s Castle.

I’m just saying, to take a bus to the bus station to take a bus to a castle to take a bus to a bus, it was a journey for a couple cool photos, which as always are below.

Learned I’ve learned something, and that’s always fun. Always buy bus tickets in pairs. Big deal if you never use the second one. Bad deal when you get caught on the bus without one. See, we’d left a main city bus stop in Brasov to get to coach bus station to get to Bran. Upon our (me and my bus friends of one hour) return to the coach bus station, there was no vending machine for city bus tickets, and me, a young couple and a normal adult regular person couple got on through the back entrance. I’m not sure the other four even knew a ticket was required.

Except I was the only one with a ticket. And no one on any city bus yet has checked to see if I’ve actually had a ticket stamped by the little machines throughout the bus. But they were checking this time, and all four of them got hauled off by two attendants to the police station, passports requested and everything. The one couple didn’t understand what was going on, I had the full idea of both sides (what they didn’t have, what they were supposed to have)… The attendant saw me explaining to them, thought I was Romanian, thought I could translate, which led to me waving off with a “no, no, American” and moments later waving with a sad and useless “good luck.”

Overnight train to Budapest, Hungary tonight. Learned that other lesson, reservation bought this time. 12 hours in a window seat. Off to my sixth country and twelfth city, for the first time hostel friendless on a leg of a journey. I’d had Jay Plovdiv to Veliko Tarnovo, seeing him again in Bucharest. Alex, Veliko Tarnovo to Bucharest, arriving one day later than her in Brasov to sleep (or Skype rant home about snores) in the bunk below her.

Not this time… Wish me luck. :)

Bran Castle

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And goodbye, Brasov… I climbed 183 steps to take some of these photos. Yep, I counted. Lots of free time to think, folks… Gotta keep busy.

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“Probably” Perfect

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These umbrellas are everywhere in Brasov, and they crack me up. They want to make such a profound statement, but with the slightest insecurity, they don’t want to disappoint anyone. I think they’re brilliant. Today, I wandered the streets thinking of where else “probably” would be great to use. I ended up at the altar, letting go of my soon-to-be husband’s hands just long enough to properly air-quote as I stare into his eyes and tell him in my vows “you’re ‘probably’ the best one for me.”

I spend a lot of time alone lately, wandering, thinking, smiling and laughing at myself. Some call it “endearing,” others “unsettling.” I sat in the town square for awhile, eating ice cream and staring up at the Brasov letters in the hills, wondering how long it took to put each letter up. For how long did the hill say BRA? A couple hours, a couple days? And then BRAS?

So much thinking time.

Today was a great day to arrive in Brasov. An autumn Saturday, so many weddings. So many people in traditional Romanian formal wear, suits, tuxes, carrying canes. Really played up the whole “Transylvania” idea everyone has. A cloudy day here, it didn’t make me crabby like in Bucharest. The sun peeking through clouds just made the architecture all the more old-fashioned and mysterious.

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Everybody needs a Steve.

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Breakfast with my friends.

At home, so easily connected to people we already know through smartphones, laptops and texts, it’s easy to not buck up the courage to talk to the people at the next table. What is so incredible about backpacking is the need each of us has for company. Most of us are traveling alone, most of us have questions, we all have stories, and whether all admit it or not, most of us are homesick.

And, I find, rare (treasured) at home are the people who let you into their lives and stories based on one shared conversation. That happens in the common rooms of hostels every single day. We don’t have time for the usual screening, checking out, considering (or not). If we want someone to eat with that night, someone better start the conversation.

I’ve had great luck making friends this trip. I keep thinking, “Man it’s going to suck when I have to do this alone.” Then I remember Andrea and I split ten days ago, and I’ve yet to be lonely.

Last night, I picked up my sunglasses at Jay’s hostel. We’d met in Plovdiv, bonded over the story of Steve, told as Steve sat in Jay’s lap in the always too-small-for-Steve-too taxi on our way to our bus to Veliko Tarnovo. My favorite part of telling the Steve story is who its for – usually because the reaction is “He is going to learn how to play it… Right?” and sometimes I freak people out by saying “Yeah, well I hope so. I’m going to introduce myself to him when I get back. I thought Steve would be a nice touch.”

As I’m getting ready to say goodbyes at the hostel across town from mine, debating what I’d do with my night, Jay and Blake invited me to hang out. If I could write these so they overlapped, because that’s how I heard them, I would.

Jay: “Do you want a beer?”
Blake: “Want to stay for oysters with us?”

Beer, always. Oysters? Because you’re asking, they’ve never sounded more appetizing.

But they weren’t doing that for awhile, so I ask for the quickest route back to my hostel for a shower. 3km, just follow the river. The nicest sounding directions ever, and so strange to me I’d be taking a 3km walk anywhere for a shower.

The walk was gorgeous (see sunset photo in the previous post) and the shower glorious. I took the bus back (got yelled at in Romanian by the lady who sold me the bus ticket – Blake would tell me later everyone here expects tips). When I arrived back at not-my hostel, Blake and Jay were still at the grocery store, so I wandered down to the common room.

Only one other person was in there, an older (than me) man. We sat in silence watching a Discovery Channel show about Nicole the Shark for a few minutes, before he said “You look familiar.”

He’d been traveling for four years, but not recently Bulgaria or Serbia.

Turkey… Istanbul… The Stray Cat Hostel. He asks, “Were you alone then, or with friend?”

A friend, and our instrument…

“HAH YES! You were the girl with the string instrument always on your back! I was in the common room once, I heard ‘I bought it for a friend AND I CAN’T GET RID OF IT!’”

This world is very, very small. We chatted, trading travel stories, Rodrigo giving me a list of fifteen cities not to miss – “Don’t lose…” Our chatting would intermittently be broken by “No! Is that Nicole hooked? Did she get finned?? She traveled so far!

The rest of the night, the group of us sat around chatting. More friends were made. There’s a guest room at Jay’s should I ever find myself in Montreal – “There’s a bed, it’s big enough for you and your boy, and Steve.”

Bucharest ended on a very high note.

It’s currently ten in the morning, and I’m on the train to Brasov (Transylvania! Commence referring to ATMs as blood banks!). For the past hour, I’ve thought the train had the most interesting music station on, very lovey. First Lady Antebellum’s Need You Now, then Aerosmith’s Don’t Want To Miss A Thing, then Elton John’s Something About The Way (You Look Tonight)…

But I started to question the odds of all those songs running together in that order when Celine Dion started singing.

Have you ever been so in love… You could touch the moonlight…

So I took a peek around.

There’s a young couple, iPod blaring, making out behind me, her laid out in his arms.

Good for you, kids. Corny taste in make-out music, but good for you.

Don’t let the smell of my McDonald’s or sound of my hacking ruin the moment.

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Dear Diary…

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Real life is beautiful.

Every once in awhile, it’s not what did you see today, but what did you learn today.

I sit writing in a cafe at least 4km from my hostel. I walked for four hours today in a big half circle, eventually ending up at Jerome’s Bucharest hostel. He has my sunglasses. I left them in the shower in Veliko Tarnovo… Because the last shower I had, I jumped in with them still on my head.

And now, he’s not there, and I’m sitting in a cafe down the street that oddly enough (my life is quirkier everyday) is decorated like this.

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Today I left my hostel, made a left down a main road. About half an hour later, a right down another, a little while later, a left and another left. Maybe a right at some point. Wherever there were restaurants, churches, trees shading the street. I’ve gotten comfortable knowing I can walk as far in one direction or another as I want, and public transportation signs will take me home. Life lesson right there, folks.

I spent 20 minutes walking into various medical offices in a complex, internally laughing at myself, as I asked assistants at each desk if there was a scale, talk/miming “I’ve been traveling for six weeks and walking a lot.” Who would have thought it would be the dermatologist that would be able to help with that one. 57kg. Exactly what I left at, in different units. Except the leaner with kebab muscle version.

But what else did I really learn today.

I’ve been struggling with not identifying as a “backpacker,” and I don’t mean the half that is just European kids getting trashed “on holiday.”… My search for stories to send home, create from, use as inspiration is a great motivating factor for being here. But I catch myself admiring others who are traveling just to know the world for their own personal satisfaction, for no audience, for their own knowledge. I catch myself questioning if their motives for being here are more sincere.

And that’s silly, and I know it.

I spent much of today thinking about this past year, this upcoming year. 15 months ago, blonde blonde blonde, plus 30 very unhappy pounds, due to being… well, very unhappy. 12 months ago, victory belly button ring for a flatter stomach, and “Rich Mahogany 099″ hair.

And it amazes me I started planning this trip last December, because so much has changed. I don’t want to be one of those “I graduated, and now I’m OLD!” and everything changed people, because that’s so grossly annoying.

There is a different mindset, however, than when this trip idea was conceived. And after a few years of struggling, I think the person writing this blog is in fact “me.” Maybe a less laundered, groomed version of me…

But I haven’t dyed my hair in over four months. That hasn’t happened since I was fifteen.

I’m fit, and, unlike a year ago, not counting calories to be there.

I’m writing, I’m laughing, and I am getting exceptionally good at Human Frogger on these European streets.

For a lot of backpackers I meet, this is their lifestyle. Save up for two years, quit the job, travel. Save up, quit, travel somewhere else. “Just don’t tie yourself down to things Iike kids or mortgages.”

And for a second, I considered it.

But that’s not the lifestyle I want, I want to have things with fingers and toes, paws and tails (that was kids and puppies, if anyone got weirded out). My desire to have an artsy little apartment rather than a house isn’t a fear of a commitment to a mortgage, but my deep, deep fear of being a horrendous housewife and the mother of whoever I date and ultimately marry hating me.

So new experiences will have to happen from a closer-to-home base, with the occasional excursion should the opportunities come, which I hope they will.

And today, I think I realized exactly where I want to be, geographically, next year. I think I’ll end up in Brooklyn. Being flat broke, but I’ll do without comfort. I really want to work in the city, and always have. Not for forever, not when I’m raising things with fingers and toes (though maybe paws and tails).

Because with recent life events, good and bad, I’ve been realizing the impact short amounts of time can have on a life – 4 seconds, 4 weeks, these 4 months.

And say within a year, I go to NYC. For hypothetical purposes, for three years.

Four years from now, I’ll the ripe old age of… 26.

Gosh, there is so much life ahead.

So much fun to be had.

I’m happy.

In need of a Bucha-Rest.

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I spent much of the other morning with this cat in my lap. For a long time, it stood on my stomach, purring and doing this hysterical little march in place on my lap. Left up, right up, left up, right up. Repeat.

I set out yesterday to do some cheap wardrobe shopping. I don’t have a single pair of pants, just capris, shorts and skirts, and fall is here. What I found was a massive H&M, where for the first time in my life I thought “$12 for five pairs of underwear? I can do better.”

I am living life on the cheap.

I wandered for hours yesterday, coming across the People’s House (parliament building, second largest government building next to the Pentagon, if I remember correctly), Revolution Square, the university, and so much more Bucharest history. I love it here. I walked until I was exhausted, falling asleep in my bed at 5:30 rather than doing the 6p.m. walking tour I’d planned, and slept the next two hours.

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I’m still sick, and as of last night, it was getting worse. That said, I ventured out to a district with a huge amount of nightlife – dozens of restaurants, bars and cafes. Men playing violins, accordions, guitars. I wish I had a soundtrack of all the sounds and songs I’ll never hear again from this trip. I ate dinner on a corner and watched the crowd, and in the middle of this bustling nightlife, read the first three chapters of Water for Elephants. I’d sleep 12 hours once I went to bed.

I’m content.

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Do you have change for that bribe?

I got off the train ready to hate Bucharest.

Our train left Veliko Tarnovo at 12:50a.m. I was traveling with Alex, a woman traveling independently for four months on the same route as me, if mostly done in reverse order, three months down and one to go, and with Andy, Minnesota Russian lit major my age. We didn’t get sleepers, just second class seats for which I knew my railpass would be accepted.

Which it was. Except on some random trains, there’s this annoying, insignificant “reservation fee” you have to pay. So while my pass covered my ticket, I still technically owed 2.50 euro for my seat reservation. Which ten minutes down the tracks, I was telling the attendant I didn’t have, playing ignorant, can’t I pay for it now? I hadn’t been sure about the reservation, though I’d doubted in Bulgaria I’d have to deal with it. The train station was in the next town and the cost of a taxi to and from it during business hours to “maybe” buy a reservation wasn’t worth it.

But the language barrier was tough. Rough. Until Andy steps up and saves the day, having a fluent Russian conversation with the attendant (the train was the “Moscow Express,” going from Istanbul to Moscow) and negotiating a bribe. Lesson learned: I’ve really, really got to get a handle on having small change. I had a 20lev note ($15) and multiple 20euros (40lev each). The attendant laughs. Translated, “It’s not worth that much.” Andy handed over a 5 in exchange for letting me get off at Ruse, the border city, to buy the reservation.

And at 3a.m., the ticket office in Ruse was closed, (and sounds of a departing train had Alex and speeding up different staircases to vacant platforms, our bags still on the train with Andy, but Andy’s train ticket in Alex’s purse… luckily, our train was parked on a different platform) but a 5 euro (now Alex’s small change) bribe got the conductor to sign off on my pass, validating my seat and travel history.

The stress maybe wasn’t worth it, but all in, the bribes cost me less than the cab to buy the legitimate reservation. Just McDonald’s breakfast for everyone in the morning.

As I’ve mentioned, I’ve been sick. And sick makes me cranky, and cranky in a city I don’t know makes me miserable. Basically, arriving in Bucharest on what was the dreariest, cloudiest day of my trip was crappy. It was like being dropped off in NYC not knowing the Empire State Building, Times Square or Statue of Liberty exist.

Just garbage, taxis, metros, people everywhere that could be pleasant or pickpocketers, and fast food chains. The hostel is four streets off the main road, and when dark and gray, sketchy as anywhere I’ve ever been. All the city reminded me of was the job I don’t have, the money I won’t have, and the things I “should” be doing right now.

I was not a campy camper two days ago. Feeling like junk, I went for junk food and laying in the hostel hammock (a bright spot in the day) and hoped tomorrow would be better.

Which it was.